Having eyes to see; taking the scales off

After a time of great trial in my marriage, my husband and I were talking in a small group with some friends.  We shared how God’s presence had been so evident in the midst of our crisis.

Great suffering opened our eyes to the enormity of God. And, His presence had never been so real.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   -CS Lewis

As we were talking about this, someone protested by saying,

“What if I haven’t experienced a major crisis? What if no one close to me has died or has a disease or I haven’t experienced any tragedies? Does that mean that I can’t experience God like you have?”

I remember my answer,

“Well, no, God wants everyone to have a close relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced suffering, loss or tragedy. God wants everyone to experience His presence.”

Looking back, I realize the naivete in my response.

If I were asked that same question today, I would have a much different answer.

Does a person need to go through peril, danger, crisis, pain or suffering in order to really see God and feel His presence in the most profound way?

I think the answer is yes. Crisis and tragedy in life can take the scales off our eyes so we can truly see Him. There is something about the presence of God in the midst of great trial or suffering that we can’t get in the midst of comfort.

You might say that seems unfair. Pain and suffering are not equally distributed among us. Many of the awful things that happen in this life are seemingly accidental or random.

To that I would respond by asking this question.

‘Are you living like Christ did, or are you comfortable?’

The other path to experiencing God in the most profound way is to suffer in serving. You may not necessarily have experienced tragedy or crisis in your own life, but when you serve others, you can experience it second hand.

Loving and serving others is the very picture of Christ. And, people who live like Christ WILL experience more of Him than people who don’t.

God promises us in scripture that if we follow Him 1) we will suffer, and 2) He will always be with us.

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me;  Psalm 23:4

Being with the lepers, ministering to the lowly and unclean, loving and feeding the poor, visiting those in prison and walking where there is great danger and great need was Christ’s ministry on earth.

If you walk with lepers, minister to the lowly and unclean, love and feed the poor, and walk where there is great danger and great need, you WILL experience the overwhelming power and presence of Jesus Christ. And, most likely you will suffer.

If you don’t do those things, you may or may not.

I mentor a young mother of three kids and her boyfriend who live in the inner city.

When I began doing this, I was uncomfortable. Having always lived in the suburbs, the downtown neighborhoods scared me. Being the minority didn’t feel good. And, I didn’t understand the culture. I very much felt like a fish out of water.

Even though the city is only 30 minutes from where I live, it is a completely different world.

I would pray on the way to pick them up because I didn’t and still don’t know entirely what God is doing with this family. I didn’t have the right words to say. I wasn’t a social worker problem pensive girl at window profile sad black and whiteor a psychologist. And, on the way home I would wonder, ‘Am I making a difference? Am I doing anything at all?’

My husband got involved as well to help the boyfriend finish school and get a job. There were many evenings when he and I would be in our kitchen talking about this couple.

Whenever I am downtown whether it is in government assisted apartment buildings, the WIC office, the social security office, or the hospital in the ‘bad side of town’, I am in the midst of the poor, the oppressed and the needy. I am in the midst of parolees, thieves, domestic violence perpetrators, and drug users. I am among the lost. And, this is exactly where Jesus would want me to be.

Being in a hopeless, depressing, and dangerous environment is unpleasant. It’s burdensome. But, we are called to love and care for the hopeless, the depressed, and even the dangerous.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   Matthew 25:35,36,40

My point is that it is hard. I wouldn’t dare say that this constitutes pain and suffering for me. But it is one small example of how we should be putting ourselves where Jesus would be. It is an example of going into the mess with the ‘messy’, and suffering with those who suffer.

Who did Jesus spend much of His time with? Where was He during His ministry on earth?

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31-32

My sister-in-law goes to Africa two or three times a year to do ministry for women in Bigstock: 63818828 - AMBOSELI, KENYA.jpgZambia. They love and care for women and children who, without this ministry, would not be loved and cared for.

The more trips she goes on, the harder it is to return to the states. She feels deep sympathy for the people of Africa she has to leave behind. And, she has become ‘different’ as a result of following Christ to help the needy, and therefore, experiences loneliness and isolation when she comes back.

She has allowed God to break her heart for what breaks his. And, she is often heartbroken.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.   1 John 2:6

We are to be a light in the darkness, which means that we sometimes have to GO TO the darkness in order to be the light. The light shines the brightest in the darkest places.

“let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”   Matthew 5:16

As we go into these dark places, He will make His presence known. God will always be with us . . . . . always! And, if we follow God where He leads, His glory will blow us away!

 

Praying with Power; the REESS prayer

Prayer is powerful. We can’t have a close relationship with God without it. We must spend time with our heavenly Father if we are to become like Him.  And, just like any other relationship, it takes time to build intimacy.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 Paul says,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Many of us have heard of the ACTS prayer.

A – adoration
C – confession
T – thanksgiving
S – supplication

For me, I have found this way of praying nominally helpful, which is sufficient if I am content with a nominal Christian life.

However, I want a powerful Christian life. And this type of life requires powerful prayer. If true holy power is what I desire, I must take my prayers to another level.

Prayer is not simply ‘pray for what I need’, or shall I say, ‘pray for what I want’. Often, though, our prayers tend to get reduced to . . . .

  • be with the doctors as this person has surgery
  • please heal ‘so-and-so’ from their disease
  • give them safe travel
  • help me find a job
  • help me sell my house
  • keep our kids safe from harm

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with prayer requests. Jesus clearly tells us that we have every right to ask for these things.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.   Philippians 4:6

However, requests can’t be the extent of our prayers.

When we pray, the focus needs to be on Him. Requests should take a backseat, not be the star of the show. Yet, for many of us, our prayers are exclusively about requests.

God doesn’t need our prayers to do anything. It isn’t part of the equation that makes things happen. God doesn’t need . . . period. He wants us to pray because He wants us to know Him and receive His power. And, because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.

I used to be mostly a ‘casual prayer’. Most of my days were spent in and out of casual conversation with God. At home, in the car, and basically wherever I was, I could feel, and continue to feel His Spirit with me. 

“The Lord is near to all who call on him”   Psalm 145:18

Casual prayer is a good thing. It usually means that one is ‘walking in the Spirit’.

However, I started adding a time of prayer on my knees; a time of prayer that is more formal and focused. I’m not perfect and it isn’t everyday, but when I am physically and bodily in a posture of worship, I can really feel His power rain down on me.

When I focus on His holiness and His greatness and am on my knees before Him, it changes me from the inside out.

We have a God who is . . . .

. . . . high and lifted up!  Isaiah 6:1
. . . . greatly to be praised!  Psalm 145:3
. . . . mighty in power!   Psalm 147:5
. . . . the God of gods, and the Lord of lords!   Deuteronomy 10:17

And about Him, the four living creatures will say, day and night, ” . . . holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” Revelation 4:8

Jesus showed us how to pray. If we break down The Lord’s Prayer, this is essentially what it looks like:

Our Father in heaven, – respect
hallowed be your name. – exaltation
Your kingdom come, – expectation
your will be done, – submission
on earth as it is in heaven. – sovereignty
Give us this day our daily bread, – needs
and forgive us our debts, – confession
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, – requests
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, – sovereignty

the power and the glory forever. – exaltation

-Amen

It begins with respect, exaltation, expectation, submission, and acknowledging His sovereignty. These five parts have the place of the greatest importance. They come before our needs and our requests.

I always start with praising Him, talking about Him and His many attributes, or thanking Him for who He is. I don’t let myself pray about anything else until I have spent sufficient time focusing on Him and His glory.

Sometimes I find myself so focused on Him, that I never get around to praying for myself or anyone else.

My acronym for prayer is REESS.

R – respect
E – exaltation
E – expectation
S – submission
S – sovereignty

Focusing on respect, exaltation, expectation, submission, and acknowledging His sovereignty is the key to having a powerful prayer life.

If you want to become a powerful being, as an heir of the King, than you may need to change how you are praying.

Praying the REESS way, has allowed me to exalt God, and humble myself. And, I definitely feel more powerful because of it.

Prayer is for us, it is a gift, but it should be about Him. He is the source of all power and authority. It’s always all about His Glory.

 

Don’t Put Your Gloves On Until You Know Who You Are Fighting

I recently saw a friend of mine at church who has been dealing with issues with her mom for years. Her mother had Alzheimer’s and was verbally abusive. Since she was the only one of her siblings in town, the majority of care taking fell on her shoulders. Things had recently escalated and her mother was hospitalized. As her brothers and sisters came from out of town, the fighting began. From the moment they arrived there was nothing but bickering and arguments.

Who is the enemy here? Her mom? Her brothers and sisters?

You find yourself after twenty years in a loveless marriage. What happened? Where did it go wrong? You borrow your husband’s laptop real quick one afternoon because you’re upstairs and your laptop is downstairs. As you click around to get to your email, a name pops up that you don’t recognize. ‘Who is this?” you wonder. You click the email thread. As you start to skim the inappropriate text you become nauseous. Alarms go off in your head, ‘STOP READING,’ they say, ‘ABORT, ABORT!’ Your body begins to go numb. You can no longer deny what you have suspected for months. ‘Well,’ you say to yourself, ‘it finally happened.’

Who is the enemy here? Your husband? The other woman?

I call middle school ‘middle earth.’ Middle-earth. J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented world centered on an epic story of the struggle between Good and Evil. Middle earth is the dark land that inhabits scary, grotesque creatures, where the main character and his companion journey together in the series, Lord Of The Rings. It is an eerie and sinister world. Danger looms around every corner, and you never quite know who is a friend or foe. Sounds like middle school, right?!

My daughter came home from middle school one day crying. Some kids were making fun of her about her shoes . . . SHOES . . . really?!! There are certain kids at her school that make middle school somewhat miserable. They are loud, obnoxious, rude, arrogant, and basically . . . . bullies.

Who is the enemy here? That kid at school? That kid’s parents?

The enemy is not our parents or our kids, even though they may make us mad. It is not the school bully. It’s not our husbands or wives. It’s not our coworker or our boss. It’s not the guy in the black SUV that cut you off on the way to work this morning.

Who is our enemy, then?

Human nature causes us to ignore the supernatural and to trust only what we see. When we are angry, we see the people who have hurt us. Too often, we fail to see the one behind the scenes pulling the strings.

There is only one true enemy. Satan is the enemy.

When preparing for battle, we must determine who the real enemy is.

A boxer wouldn’t start punching the referee when the starting bell rings. Just like a football player wouldn’t run off the field and tackle a spectator! That would be ridiculous! They know who they are up against. They know who the enemy is, and who it is not.

The enemy is ALWAYS Satan. If we acknowledge that and direct our anger and opposition toward him, then the rest of us might realize we are actually on the same team.

“The Scriptures command us to be gentle and kind to unbelievers, not because we are not at war, but because we’re not at war with them. . . . . The path to peace isn’t through bellicosity or surrender, but through fighting the right war. We rage against the Reptile, not against the prey.”
-Russell Moore, Onward; Engaging The Culture Without Losing The Gospel

In other words . . . . don’t put on the gloves until you know who you’re fighting!

Those that wrong us or cause us pain are not necessarily the enemy. When you separate the enemy from the person that you are in conflict with, you can begin to have compassion for them. You begin to see that there is more at play than meets the eye.

People that hurt us often have strongholds, and Satan is probably using them.

 “and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”  2 Timothy 2:26

Those of us who are old enough to remember the horrible events of 9/11 can never forget it. We were attacked and would never be the same. From that day on the threat to our country was no longer communism or nuclear weapons, or war, it was terrorism. And, no one was safe.

2847718626_ca8cf8d445Satan is like a terrorist. He hides in the shadows and caves, and disguises himself. He is sneaky and hard to find, avoiding the light. He uses women and children and those who are the most vulnerable to hide behind.

As a result of the attack on the United States, the government created the Department of Homeland Security. I obviously don’t work for Homeland Security, but I would guess that their number one objective is to know who the enemy is.

Before any battle can be fought, a foe must be identified. Then, and only then, can a war be fought without attacking the wrong people.

The same is true when it comes to our enemy. Once we recognize that our enemy is Satan, we can stop fighting each other.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”   Ephesians 6:12

It is Satan that is trying to destroy marriages, take our children, and rip families apart. It is Satan that is trying to take down ministries and churches. It is Satan that makes a mess of our relationships. And, it is Satan that is ultimately trying to destroy our faith.

Know who your enemy is.